Mazel Tov! A Philippine mineral exploration has discovered a treasure trove of gas in that portion of the South China Sea that is claimed by both China and the Philippines..
That was the good news, but the bad news is that this will merely add gas to the fire, because the find further emphasizes that not hypothetical resources, but tangible ones worth billions of dollars, are at stake.
The Brussels-based International Crisis Group has warned that the dispute can serve as a flashpoint because the incidents between the Southeast Asian countries are becoming ever more frequent, leading the smaller countries to seek American protection, a policy that fuels further Chinese resentment and suspicion.
Because some Southeast Asian countries are new to the game and do not have the skills in conflict resolution developed by more mature regional systems, the problems are getting worse. Additionally, these states have either just emerged or are still in the process of nation-building and that process employs heavy doses of nationalism, making disputes less susceptible to compromise.
The Chinese Communist regime bases its legitimacy on justified claims that it has restored China's great power status.
It has also made a major issue of Chinese sovereignty over areas such as Taiwan.
Having convinced the public that the South China Sea, that China claims for historic reasons, is sacred Chinese territory, how can it afford to justify a compromise with - for example - the much smaller Philippines or Vietnam on these territorial issues?
China is also at a stage of leadership transition. The departing leaders will want to leave their mark and their successors will want to get off on the right foot with the public.
The Chinese attitude found expression in an editorial in the English language Global Times a subsidiary of the party daily People's Daily. The editorial stressed:
“China should be prepared to engage in a small-scale war at sea with the Philippines.”
“Once the war erupts, China must take resolute action to deliver a clear message to the outside world that it does not want a war, but definitely has no fear of it,” the tabloid said.
This hardly fosters confidence, particularly when added to the warm reception accorded by President Hu Jintao to Kim Yong Il, a top representative of the North Korean regime. Hu stressed the importance of the bilateral ties and announced that "we will carry on the tradition, boost strategic communication and coordination on key international issues and work for peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula."
This statement came after North Korea threatened to reduce the South Korean government to ashes and after it was revealed that some components of the North Korean missile program were supplied by China, perhaps in the format of dual use technology.
The Obama administration is giving the Chinese government the benefit of the doubt and has studiously avoided exploiting the Bo Xilai affair.
This may change, as Mitt Romney has promised a much tougher line against Chinese policies.